20 Classic Ball Games for Kids

These old-fashioned, classic ball games for kids don't require much equipment and usually don't need a certain number of players. That makes them flexible and fun, which is what playtime should be all about.

Parents and grandparents may participate, or they can serve as facilitators and mediators, adjusting rules for kids of different ages or for different playing fields. The most important role for adults is that of an enthusiastic spectator (a few cheers might even be in order).

These outdoor games are fun for family reunions, multigenerational vacations, and other celebrations. Those involving a large soft ball can be enjoyed by both young and older children, whereas those using a ball and a bat are more suitable for tween children on up.

Flies and Grounders

A grandfather throws a baseball to his grandson in a park
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This is possibly the most informal game on the list, as it simply involves two players tossing a ball back and forth (it probably began as a baseball drill).

Catching a ball in the air is worth two points and fielding a grounder is worth one point. Each player tries to fool the other player about whether a fly or grounder is coming. If a ball is not catchable, the receiving player gets another chance. Play continues until a certain agreed-upon-in-advance score is reached.

Five Dollars

Boys playing outside on a court
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Sometimes known as 500, this game can be played with a variety of rules and different kinds of balls. One player handles the ball by throwing, kicking, or batting it out into the field or playing area. The other players place themselves in positions around the field and earn money for fielding the ball.

Using real money isn't necessary; play money will work, or you can incorporate a sneaky math lesson by having players add up how much they have "earned" in their heads.

A grounder earns 25 cents. A ball that bounces once earns 75 cents. Two bounces are good for 50 cents, and three are good for 25 cents. A fly ball earns $1. The first player to earn $5 wins and becomes the ball handler for the next round. For an extra challenge, you can instate the rule that exactly $5 must be reached in order to win.

Crack Up

Children playing Four Square

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This game requires a large, soft ball and five or so players. Whoever is named "It" has the ball and throws it at one of the other players. That player can either dodge the ball or catch it. If the player is hit, they lose a point, and if they catch the ball, "It" loses a point. If the ball is not caught, any player can grab the ball and become "It."

When a player loses five points, they are out of the game. The game continues until there is only one player left; he or she is proclaimed the winner.


A family playing in a backyard
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This game is played with a soft playground ball. Before beginning the game, the limits of the playing area should be defined so that players can't run too far away.

One player is selected as "It" and starts counting to 10 while the other players run away, freezing in place when the counting stops. "It" is allowed to take four giant steps toward any single player before trying to hit them with the ball.

If the player is hit, they get an S and become "It." If the player who is "It" misses, they get an S and remain in their role. When a player gets four letters, spelling S-P-U-D, they are out of the game. The winner is the last to be eliminated.

Hit the Bat

Grandfather and Grandson playing baseball
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This game is usually played with a tennis ball and a bat. One person bats and everyone else scatters fielding distance away. The batter tosses the ball up and hits it. They then place the bat crosswise on the ground in front of them. The other players attempt to field the ball and whoever does can run toward the batter until the bat is placed on the ground.

The fielder then rolls the ball at the bat. When the ball hits the bat, it pops up, and the batter attempts to catch it. If the batter does not catch the ball, the fielder is up to bat. If the batter does catch the ball, or if the fielder misses the bat, the batter keeps hitting. This game can continue for as long as the players are still interested.

Run Down

Baseball player
hh5800 / Getty Images

This game is played with two bases placed about 20 feet apart. Two players are selected to be "It." Each stands on a base and tosses a softball back and forth. The other players divide up between the two bases and take turns trying to "steal" a base—that is, run from one base to the other without being tagged with the ball by one of the two doing the tossing. A player who is tagged becomes "It."

This game works for as few as three kids or for quite a few more and can continue for as long as everyone is having a good time.

Keep Away

Playing Keep Away

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This is a ball game for three kids. Two players stand in predetermined areas and toss a ball back and forth, while the third player is in the middle trying to catch it. When the middle player catches the ball, he or she trades places with the player who threw the ball. There are no winners or losers in this game, so it can go on for as long as the players want to keep playing.

Some versions of this game have the middle player positioned in a circle about 10 feet in diameter, while the other two players stand outside it. If there is a great discrepancy in height between the players, requiring that the ball bounce once in the circle will level the playing field.


Playing Flinch
Hill Street Studios

One player is "It" and has a soft ball, while the other players line up against a wall about 8 feet away with their arms folded. The player who is "It" will either throw the ball at the lined-up players or fake a throw.

The players who are being thrown at have to maintain their positions with arms folded when the ball is faked and catch the ball when it is actually thrown. Flinching when the ball is faked or failing to catch a thrown ball earns a player a letter.

The first player to spell out F-L-I-N-C-H becomes "It." With no definitive endpoint, this game can go on for however long everyone wants to play.

Say and Catch

Children playing with ball in the park

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Before each game, the players decide on a category for the game, then arrange themselves in a circle. A ball is randomly tossed between players and each must say something from the agreed-upon category before catching the ball.

If they decide upon animals, for example, they must say the name of an animal before they catch the ball. If they can't come up with a name, or if they miss the ball, they are out. The last player remaining wins the game.

This is a good game for young school-age children as it isn't too physically challenging and offers a lesson on categorizing items.

Down Down

Playing ball

skynesher / Getty Images

Players form a circle and throw the ball among themselves. Alternatively, players can form a semi-circle around one player who throws the ball (this is a good role for a parent or grandparent). The ball is thrown randomly so that players can't anticipate when they will be the one to receive it.

A player who misses a ball must go down on one knee. On the second miss, the player goes down on both knees. The third miss requires one hand to be put behind the back. The fourth miss means that the player is out. A successful catch, however, means that a player can take a step forward. The last person remaining is the winner.

Silent Ball

Girl putting a finger to her lips

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This is a quiet, indoor ball game. Begin with all players sitting on top of their tables or desks. A ball is passed from child to child. If someone can't catch the ball when it's thrown to them, they sit down in their chair or on the floor. You also have to be completely silent and any accidental chatter gets you out as well (some giggling might be excusable!).

Four Square

Girl bouncing a ball

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You need a large bouncy ball and a large square bisecting into quarters (four smaller squares) for this game. Each quarter is assigned a letter from A to D.

Players keep the ball moving by directing it into someone else's square where it may bounce only once before that player hits it. Catching the ball is not allowed. Anyone who let's the ball bounce more than once or who directs it out of bounds is out.

Once you're out, you have to move back to square D while all other players move up a letter. There can also be a line of players waiting that you have to go to the end of.

Around the World

Boy holding a basketball over his head

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This game is played on a basket ball court. Players start at a point closest to the hoop and attempt to shoot a basket. If the ball goes into the hoop, the move progressively farther away, along a series of set points.

Whoever makes it "around the world" first wins. Or, for a non-competitive version, all players make their way around and then the game ends.


Person playing kickball

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Kickball has almost exactly the same rules as baseball, except the ball is large and you kick it instead of batting. Kids of all ages can be successful playing kickball, making it a good game for mixed age groups.

Steal the Bacon

Kids running after the ball

Klaus Vedfelt / Getty Images

Players on two teams are secretly assigned numbers. There needs to be the same number of kids on each team. Teams line up on either end of a field, facing away from each other. A ball is placed at the center.

A designated person calls out a number. The two children whose numbers are called run to the ball and try to pick it up and bring it back to their side. But, if you get tagged while holding the ball, you must forfeit it.

Monkey in the Middle

Kids tossing a ball back and forth

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In this game, two players toss a ball back and forth while a third player (the "monkey in the middle) tries to intercept and catch the ball. One the monkey gets the ball, someone else goes to the middle.

This game can be a lot of fun but it can be discouraging for kids who are left for an extended time in the middle. Consider adding a time limit for how long someone has to stay in the middle before an automatic switch.

Hot Potato

Girls playing with a ball

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Hot Potato is often played with a bean bag, but it can also be played with a ball. Players stand in a circle and toss the ball to someone across the circle while music plays. The ball has to keep moving fast--there is no holding onto it.

Whoever is holding the ball when the music stops is out. You can have these kids sit down in their place or you can have them dance to the music on the sides of the circle.

Crab Soccer

Child laughing

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Crab soccer is played just like traditional soccer but with one very important distinction. All players must crawl on their hands and feet, belly-up the entire game.

This can be a fun game for kids who thrive on challenges. It's also an excellent way to burn off any energy.

Bottle Bowling

Toddler holding bowling pins

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You don't have go to the bowling alley to bowl. Set up bowling pins or save bottles from your recycling to use. Use any kind of ball to bowl them down. If your bottles are plastic, weigh them down with a bit of sand or small rocks at the bottom.

Beach Ball Math

Girl With Beach Ball

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This game makes practicing math facts so much more fun. Beach balls are divided up into colored sections. Using a sharpie, write a bunch of unsolved math equations on each of these sections.

Kids should stand in a circle and toss the ball from person to person. The child who catches the ball needs to answer a math problem from one of the sections that their hand is on.

1 Source
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  1. McGrath M. Parents can model sportsmanship at kids' athletic events. AAP News. 2014;35(12). doi:10.1542/aapnews.20143512-30e

By Susan Adcox
Susan Adcox is a writer covering grandparenting and author of Stories From My Grandparent: An Heirloom Journal for Your Grandchild.